During the three months before the wedding, Sylvester and Lucia’s relationship evolved little by little. After one month, he could keep Lucia in his arms longer, but was still unable to caress her cheek or stroke her air. He succeeded in this the following month, and it was then her turn to try to touch him. The first time she moved her hands on his back when he hugged her, they had to part quickly. Lucia learned to sense his tensions, and succeeded in stopping herself most of the time before it became unpleasant for him. By the third month, she could touch him and they began to have long and tender hugs. But since that day in the park, Sylvester didn’t dare kiss her again. He told her he wanted to be ready. Their next kiss had to be fabulous.
Sylvester told Beth and the Major about his plan to go to the wedding with adult Lucia. The bride and groom could feel how deep was the love between the two of them and had no will to ruin what would be their first party together. They could feel it was very important for Sylvester, but at the same time they sensed Lucia’s apprehension.
They talked with her, and reassured her. When she arrived on Earth at first, even though they all knew baby Lucia, nobody here recognized her. And nobody there, on Frigellya, would suspect who she really is, even her own parents, who see her every day as a kid. The only problem was that Lucia was not a common name; knowing this, Sylvester proposed that Lucia become Lucy, as he nicknamed her recently. But as Beth’s friends were part of the wedding, the Major was obliged to use his suggestion ability on them, to permanently transform Lucia into Lucy in everybody’s mind. So after two weeks, when they got the answer from the district about the definitive date of their wedding, Beth organized another meeting with all her friends, including Sylvester and Lucia, and it was the Major himself who introduced them with a “You remember Sylvester and Lucy.” And that was it.
The Major, meanwhile, had started his fencing master activity as expected. He was very pleased to see some of Beth’s friends at his first lesson. He found in Peter a very motivated learner. Rose, who only watched the first time, began her lessons the week after. Jon and Emily, who also watched the first lesson, joined them for practice the third week, and William came later, after the others told him how great it was. After three months of lessons, the Major had thirty regular learners and became close to Peter and Jon and another guy, Benedict. The four men went from time to time for a drink after the lesson.
Beth, in her turn, had a hard time with her mother regarding the wedding, especially about the dress. Her mother didn’t understand why it was David’s family who organized everything. Beth only answered that they were the first to propose any help, and the couple accepted. Officially, the former Frigellyan King was David’s father’s cousin, which made Christopher a cousin too. And, of course, there was Lucia, now Lucy, the distant cousin David introduced the day he met Beth’s friends.
One day, as she saw Beth really worried, the former Queen asked Beth what it was about. Beth then talked about her mother’s feeling excluded from the wedding organization. Without telling her anything, the former Queen contacted Beth’s mother directly to take advice on the wedding plans. She asked Mira and Reymo for a makeshift 25th-century phone line, so she could be reachable like any human over there. As suggestion does not work by phone, she really had to draw on her diplomatic resources to cope with an angry and annoyed mother. It took her just a few minutes to reverse the situation, though it was much harder when it came to the wedding dress. The Queen invented a big lie about a friendship with David’s mother. The dress she wanted to give Beth was in her memory. Officially Beth’s wedding dress became a replica of David’s mother’s. The former Queen was a bit ashamed to have to inform the Major and his father of this. She didn’t expect their reactions; the Major just laughed, and his father was moved. In a sense, his wife would be with him at this wedding, even if through a big lie.
On Dalygaran, the Supreme Commander had to organize the travels of David and Beth’s friends. He granted Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe and Fragrant Flower from Isadora Plain the use of the travel-bodies to be able to come to the wedding. They will have to use a morpher to show human shapes. They will come to the wedding as Moira and Raymond, David’s best friends. Mira and Reymo had to modify their outfits, using the morpher, into ceremony clothes.
The Dalygaran couple, meanwhile, were not used to entering a new body after having taken a travel pill. As the date of the wedding approached, Very First Gold Ring Ray could sense their anxiety and allowed them a trial run to reassure them. She had to make sure they wouldn’t be too emotional on the day, as emotions are the connection with the traveling functions of the bodies. Even in human shape, an involuntary dematerialization would be catastrophic. Fragrant Flower from Isadora Plain was the one she worried about most. She had never left the planet, while her husband, as a scientist, had been to several interplanetary congresses. Very First Gold Ring Ray obtained for them a first travel to Earth for the day of their trial in the travel body, so that the emotions of discovering Earth and the ones for attending the wedding wouldn’t occur on the same day. Beth and the Major came to bring them in a transporter. As they arrived in the flat, Nelly had a bit of a shock seeing Moira and Raymond again, even though she knew they were not the same people inside. Beth and the Major took the Dalygaran couple to visit the town, especially the park, on the demand of Fragrant Flower from Isadora Plain. They showed them the District Hall where the official wedding ceremony would take place.
The Dalygaran couple were very pleased with their day on Earth. Very First Gold Ring Ray had briefed them before on what they would find, and what sort of society it was. Fragrant Flower from Isadora Plain ultimately found Earth to be… different. As for Star Shining in the Vastness of the Universe, he was just so happy to discover the universe of his friends. When they were back at the two Smiths’ flat, they really felt free to speak and did so, for more than an hour, before going back to their planet, where Very First Gold Ring Ray was waiting for them with an extraction pill. She found Fragrant Flower from Isadora Plain much more relaxed than she’d been before going. “Mission accomplished”, she thought to herself.
Questioned by Very First Gold Ring Ray on how he planned to attend the wedding, the Supreme Commander answered that he wanted to be able to go regularly to Earth as David’s father, and therefore needed a dedicated body, not one only for the wedding. He informed her that he had already asked Edge-of-Time Undergrounders if it were possible to have one like his son’s, so he could feel the same way his son feels. The Supreme Commander, as he saw his son evolving, wanted to be able to understand what was happening to him—from the inside. He had another idea too, but he didn’t tell anyone about it. He knew that Very First Gold Ring Ray sensed he was plotting something, ever since the day he forbade her to tell his son that he reveals a human shape now. He decided everybody would know on the wedding day.
The Undergrounders, who consider the Supreme Commander as their savior’s father, readily accepted and made another body. They did not have much time to do it differently from the former one though, busy as they were with almost-humans’ transformations. They just matured him to the age that David’s father was supposed to be on Earth. The body was stored on Frigellya until the wedding day. Mira and Reymo would bring it to Dalygaran with their own transporter, inside the Spatial Center. The body has to stay in their security bubble, so that the Supreme Commander won’t suffocate when his mind arrives from his Dalygran body to his human one.
Very First Gold Ring Ray asked Spring Wind over Laurina Mountain, the man who volunteered to take Beth’s place on Earth, to help her keep an eye on the three Dalygaran bodies that would stay in the Spatial Center
For their part, Mira and Reymo had to organize the arrival of the 25th-century Earthling guests to the reception room. They worked together with Paul, Sylvester, and Nelly with some new Epsilon technologies. The morphing of a transporter into a lift was not difficult. As Frigellyan transporters are see-through, it was easy to put it in a real lift on Earth. Of course, the lift didn’t move at all, and it was on Frigellya that the morphing was necessary so people couldn’t see they’d changed places. The fake lift door would simply open, and they would be in the reception room.
Epsilon technology was needed to counter the time travel effect on the Earthling guests. If left untreated, some dozens of 25th-century Earthlings would be able to remember time travelers, and this was just unthinkable, and cancelling out this effect is only possible after one or two time-travels. As such, Frigellyan guards would be put at the entrance to the lift; officially, they would be there to help guests find their way, but in reality they would prevent non-guests from taking the transporter. These guards would also be the ones to trigger the countermeasures, using a special device, before people left the building. With their suggestion ability, Frigellyan guards would have no problem redirecting non-guests to the other lifts.
As for the Major, he has kept his promise to the Dalygaran military. He comes regularly—once a week—to do a proper transition before his resignation. He presents Very First Gold Ring Ray with his team’s psychological portrait, their weak points, and their key strengths; he shows her his last cases, and introduces her to some Eminences of other planets she will have to work with. He makes sure her physical training is undoubtable. But First Gold Ring Ray knows there is a simpler way to get unstinting respect: reach the 8th level at the Pendula Room. One day, she tells the Major she would like to talk with Beth once more. And so Beth comes with him on his next visit. Very First Gold Ring Ray tells her point-blank:
—I want to reach the 8th level in the Pendula room. I watched you last time. It was just incredible. I would like you to explain to me, with your own words, how you do it.
—Oh, I see. You never give up, do you?
Very First Gold Ring Ray starts to laugh.
—Something tells me you’re the same.
—She is, confirms the Major.
—I’m always amazed how people see me since I started to travel in my Dalygaran body. I always have the feeling they’re talking about someone else.
—Since I’ve known you, you’ve always been the same. You did all that was asked of you without hesitation. She’s instinct driven, adds the Major for the benefit of Very First Gold Ring Ray.
—Oh, stop it, David. Everything I did here in the first place was because I was lost, protests Beth.
—Living through strong and traumatic experiences revealed you. The “you” people can see is real and this is the one we celebrate here. You saved us, says Very First Gold Ring Ray.
—So many, Beth. So many. Trust me, and trust yourself… I’m counting on you to improve my level in the Pendula Room. If you can explain to me how you do this, maybe it can help me.
—It’s just anticipation abilities due to genetics.
—You told me that before. But how can you anticipate? How does this work?
—I feel, I don’t look. I’m the pendula. So I can know where they are at each moment.
—I fail to reach the next level because I use my sight?
—I think you’re at your physical limit, as David is. To go further, you’ve got to do it another way. Sight and muscles are limited. The mind goes further.
—Beth, I think you can give more than a theoretical explanation, says the Major softly.
—What do you mean?
—Make her feel it.
—Do you remember what we did when I had that movement inhibitor around my neck?
—You let my mind take command of your body.
—What?! says Very First Gold Ring Ray.
—It’s your time to trust her, answers the Major. Let’s go to the Pendula room, and we’ll show you.
And so they do. Beth takes command of the Major’s body such that he is able to reach level-10 too. Beth needs to sit after that. Taking control of another body is not easy.
—I can try on my own now, says the Major.
He whispers into Beth’s ear, “Give me a sign when I’m over level-8.”
Very First Gold Ring Ray starts the machine. When the Major reaches level-8 Beth stays calm, and lets her mind be overjoyed when he reaches level-9. The machine goes into high gear before he reaches level-10.
—You improved your own score. That’s great, she exclaims joyfully.
She hugs him warmly.
—So, Very First Gold Ring Ray, it’s your turn. Will you let me take command of your body?
Very First Gold Ring Ray doesn’t give an answer immediately. Beth sees her thinking intensely, hesitating on what she is about to decide. Then she says:
—Your emotions, they are so strong. You let them all out. It’s human, I guess.
—Yes, I have to deal with this, answers Beth.
—And you too?
—Yes, Very First Gold Ring Ray. As I told you when we met again, I’m becoming more and more human.
—I didn’t realize what that really means.
—Don’t worry; we both manage our humanity. Don’t tell me you’re afraid to try being controlled by Beth.
—I’m not afraid. I just don’t know if this is what I really want.
—With a level 8, your authority, like mine, will be unquestionable; you know it. My team is used to a strong leader. Be one.
—That’s ok, Beth. He’s right. I already have their respect, had it since I got here. But you know what it is to be an empathist; behind this respect, I can sometimes feel doubts. I know how to motivate a team. I had one. But it took me some time, and here I don’t have any. You left a strong legacy behind you, Moon Crystal. You’ll always be a shadow over my head. I can’t fight a shadow, and I won’t even try. But I can win a reputation. Beth, let’s have a try.
—Are you sure?
—Damn sure. I’m ready. Moon Crystal, activate the machine please.
Beth is surprised to be able to take control of Very First Gold Ring Ray’s body so quickly. The latter doesn’t hesitate one second in letting Beth’s mind enter. The Major watches over Beth, ready to hold her if she shows any sign of physical weakness. When level-10 is reached, the Major stops the machine and Beth immediately takes a seat.
—Did we succeed? asks Very First Gold Ring Ray.
—Yes, level-10. Your body and your mind registered something. I’m sure now, you’re able to go over level-7, says the Major.
—Beth, thank you. You look so exhausted. Let’s see what I can do on my own now. Moon Crystal, activate the machine.
When the Pendula finally goes into high gear, she asks point-blank
—8! says the Major.
Very First Gold Ring Ray laughs.
—Unbelievable. You two are formidable. This human way of thinking, it works. I made it, thanks to you.
—Yes, you made it, Very First Gold Ring Ray, confirms the Major.
—Because you believed in yourself, adds Beth. When you sense doubts creeping above respect, keep in mind that they are most likely your doubts, too.
—How very Dalygaran this assertion is, Beth.
—David and I are fortunate enough to be both.
—I’ll have to remember that.
All of this occurs before the end of Very First Gold Ring Ray’s probation. So the Major, as her superior, registers the level and the news spreads quickly all around the two military bases.
When Beth and the Major are both back on Earth, Beth asks
—Why did you ask for a sign? You didn’t want to reach level-10, did you?
—Emotions, Beth. Even under your control, reaching level-10 was a real great emotion. And you know what emotions do to us.
—They give us our abilities.
—Yes. I couldn’t be sure of this before I started again, but I didn’t want to take any risk. It couldn’t look too easy if we wanted to make her believe it was possible.
—Do you have it, anticipation ability I mean?
—I felt it, yes. And the sign you sent me as well.
—Now Very First Gold Ring Ray will take me for a birdbrain overtaken by emotions.
—Nobody takes you for a birdbrain.
—I’m not sure.
—Should I repeat to you what a wise woman once told another one, not too long ago, about doubts? They’re yours, not hers. My fiancée is not a birdbrain.
And he kisses her tenderly.
A short time after all this took place, the Major resigned as Chief Commander as scheduled, and Very First Gold Ring Ray took over the position. The Major felt relieved. A page of his life had turned, and another one, beginning with the wedding, was about to be written.
A few days after the Major’s resignation, Paul learns something that will change his life.
One morning, as he is walking with Nelly into the kitchen for breakfast, she suddenly turns around and dashes out with a quick “Sorry, I’ll be right back,” leaving him standing there, puzzled and waiting for her. The others had all already gone to their own activities for the day. It is about 10 o’clock. When she comes back a few minutes later, she says,
—Tell me what’s wrong…
—Always straight to the point, hey? Nothing’s wrong, I can assure you. But there’s something new, something unexpected. Be prepared to be surprised.
—You’re creeping me out…
—Paul, I’m pregnant.
—You heard perfectly well.
—How is it possible?
—Really, you want me to explain this to you, how two people make a child?
—I know how we technically did it. And it was great. No, but we’re … a bit old to have a kid. I was talking about our age, Nelly. Is it safe, for you and the baby?
—Yes. The conception was possible because our sexual organs are relatively new. It will probably take a year for them to synchronize physiologically with the rest of our bodies. This is our only chance to have a child, Paul.
Paul does not answer. He wears a lost look on his face.
—Paul? Are you ok?
—What? Sorry, I was in my thoughts; you were saying…?
—Are you ok?
—Am I ok? I’m damn ok, Nelly. Are you sure? We’re going to have a child?
—Oh yes, I am.
Paul puts a hand on his mouth and laughs.
—You and I… are going to be the parents of a child, a little one. You’re going to give birth?
—We’re going to be the first former almost-humans to have a child.
—We’re going to be parents, repeats Paul. Nelly, that’s great news.
And he hugs her passionately, laughing and crying at the same time.
—You’re sure, it’s safe for you and the baby?
—The results of the analysis I received this morning say everything’s all right. I’m five weeks pregnant. It’s the beginning of my pregnancy, and it’s making me a bit sick.
—Is this normal?
—It’s not abnormal; don’t worry.
—Of course I worry, Nelly. This is new, and as you said, unexpected. Does anybody else know?
—No! Of course not. I wanted you to know first.
Paul holds Nelly so tight that she finally has to say,
—Hey, the baby and I need to breathe.
He releases her with a confused “sorry”.
She looks at him, smiles and puts a hand on his cheek,
—You’ll be a wonderful father. I’m sure.
—I wasn’t the first time around. Sylvester had a disastrous father.
—You weren’t prepared. We have some months left. And you’re not alone this time.
—I promise; I won’t make you suffocate. Come into my arms.
And the two lovers hug and kiss, and laugh and cry.
Sylvester is the next to be told. Never has he seen Paul so happy. “Our family is growing, son,” Paul says to him as he puts a hand on Nelly’s belly to indicate what he is talking about. Sylvester is somewhat confused and asks Nelly without really believing it,
—I am, answers Nelly, adding that it is indeed safe for her and the baby.
Sylvester, obviously moved by the sudden revelation, gestures as Paul had before, by putting his hand on his mouth. Then he hugs Paul while laughing in joy and says after having stepped back:
—You’re going to be a real father this time.
—You were a real son. I just understood it late.
—You will share this with a mother.
And he hugs Nelly warmly in her turn.
—I know it’ll be different, Sylvester, answers Paul. This kid won’t look like an adult on its first days. He, or maybe she, will have time to learn. Not like us.
—And as we’re all human now, he or she will receive lots of love. This is an already lucky child, concludes Sylvester with a large smile.
The news has the same effect on everybody else on the two Smiths’ floor: joy and concern. Will it be safe for Nelly and the baby? And so Nelly explains, as she had to Paul and Sylvester earlier, why her late pregnancy is not a danger.
One week before the wedding another birth announces itself.
—Beth, I … I can feel it, says the Major as they wake up.
—Life, inside you.
—I told you I would feel it before you, remember? You’re pregnant, I’m sure.
Beth is speechless and suddenly bursts into tears.
The Major, surprised, hugs her tenderly to try to calm her down.
—Don’t misunderstand, she says, laughing and crying at the same time. I’m very happy. It’s just, I’ve waited for this for so long now. Since we saw our daughter. And with Nelly’s pregnancy announced, I felt even more like something was missing. Knowing something will happen without knowing when was a great torture.
—You never told me that, says the Major softly.
—I know. I should have. But I felt so stupid…
—Oh, Beth. You’ve got to learn to trust yourself. That was not stupid. That was expectation, impatience maybe, but not stupidity. If you had talked to me, I could have told you that I was wondering too.
—Of course. Like you, I didn’t know when my parenthood will really begin. I just waited, because I knew it was a certain event. But I didn’t suspect you worried about this.
The Major does not give an answer and just hugs Beth and kisses her.
—Will we tell the others? asks Beth.
—We’ve got to be careful about this. You’re only a few days pregnant, one week at the very most. Earthling women don’t usually know it so early. I know we can trust our friends, Sylvester, Paul, Nelly and Lucia. But don’t you think it’ll be easier for them to learn it the same day as everybody else? No surprise to be faked? Our wedding is in one week. We could say on that day that we suspect something, because…
—… I missed my period.
—Yes, something like that, he answers laughing.
—I couldn’t hide it anyway. No alcohol for me now for months. My friends and family will be surprised if I don’t drink Champagne at my own wedding. I’ll have to explain it at that moment. But don’t you wish to tell it to your father first?
—Sometimes grandparents can sense it, too. On Dalygaran, the custom is not to say anything before you’re sure the grandparents haven’t felt anything. When you meet father in a week, we’ll know immediately.
—All right, answers Beth. I’m so impatient for this day now.
—I am too.
They hug tenderly. Beth can feel her partner’s joy and she is sure he can feel her emotions. She wishes she could tell everybody immediately. But she knows he is right. Waiting a week would be wiser. During this week it will be their little secret. Her life has become nothing but dissimulation anyway. She will have to talk with the Major at some point about the guilt that eats her up inside from time to time. It was so simple during the first year: she met few people of her own century. But since she’s been back, she’s lied to her friends, to her parents, and she is about to lie to all her family. What bothers her is not the lies themselves, but that it is so easy. She is as undercover on her own planet as the Major is. And all this just because she is not the simple Earthling she is supposed to be, but a unique 25th-century’s gamma woman.